- 29 Mar 21
28 years ago today, Suede released their self-titled debut album, via Nude Records. The album became the UK's fastest-selling debut album in almost a decade at the time of its release – debuting at the top of the UK Albums Chart, and taking home the 1993 Mercury Prize. To celebrate, we're revisiting one of Stuart Clark's classic interviews with Brett Anderson – originally published in Hot Press in 2011.
The last time I shared breathing space with Brett Anderson was on September 6, 2002 when Suede were getting ready to play live at the Hot Press Irish Music Awards in Belfast.
The then 32-year-old was in superb form, talking up the Britpoppers’ soon-to-be-unleashed A New Morning album.
“We wrote a hell of a lot of songs and narrowed it down to ten great ones,” he told me over a very un-rock ‘n’ roll cup of tea in the Europa Hotel. “I don’t think we’ve ever done anything that’s so chock-full of good stuff. There’s no filler.”
Sadly, the record-buying public didn’t agree, with A New Morning failing to trouble the UK Top 20 – an unwelcome first for Suede.
Traumatised by their dramatic fall from commercial grace, the Londoners announced in November 2003 that they were slinging their collective hook and following a final show in the London Astoria, went their separate ways.
Far from pining for his ex-colleagues, Anderson seemed delighted to be free from the shackles of bandom.
“You can’t communicate with anyone outside your little circle,” he reflected in a 2009 interview. “It’s a very repetitive, insular existence. The whole point of being a solo artist is being able to stretch yourself and do interesting things you couldn’t do before.”
All of which made it a ginormous surprise last year when Brett, Neil Codling, Richard Oakes, Mat Osman and Simon Gilbert announced that Suede were back in business.
“It seemed as if the right amount of time had elapsed for us to revisit things,” a disgustingly fit and lean-looking Anderson tells me in response to the inevitable “why now?” question. “We’d faded in people’s memories enough for it to be a really exciting event when we came back and played the Royal Albert Hall and London O2 last year. If no-one had turned up we’d have taken the hint and gone back to the various other things we’ve been doing these past eight years, but they were among the best shows I’ve ever done, either on my own or with Suede. After 20 years of a career, I think we’ve worked out what songs work live and how to get the onstage dynamics right. Despite us playing old material, it also seemed incredibly contemporary. It didn’t feel nostalgic to me at all, which I was definitely pleased about. I’m a big These New Puritans fan – their first album, Beat Pyramid, is genius – so I asked them to support us in the Albert Hall and I think we did okay up against the youngsters!”
With no definite word yet on a new album – “I’ve been writing a bit over the past couple of weeks with Neil in my studio, but whether people will hear it or not is another matter,” Anderson teases – fans will have to content themselves with the remastered and expanded versions of their five studio albums, which will be coming out in chronological order starting on May 27 with Suede. Along with the 11 songs you all know and obsessively love, the 2CD + DVD package includes five videos, six previously unreleased tracks, seven demos, eight singles B-sides, and the whole of their respective February and May 1993 visits to the Sheffield Leadmill and Brixton Academy.
“No basement or attic was left unsearched!” Brett laughs. “There were countless things going through the archives that I’d forgotten we’d done, like this great version of ‘Still Life’ that me and Bernard played acoustically at an instore in Paris. Another thing I’d forgotten was the ridiculous working titles we gave songs. Instead of ‘That One With The Funny Riff’ we’d call it ‘Piff Poff’ or something for identification purposes. 20 years later, you’re trying to justify it, which is slightly bizarre.
“When a band is successful – as I think it’s fair to say Suede was – you’re working pretty much every day of your life. We did year-and-a-half long tours, during which we might have got a fortnight off every six months. When you weren’t on the road, you were writing, recording or doing TV. That adds up to a huge body of work, which has to be methodically sifted through.”
Asked how much of the material on the reissues came from his personal archives, the singer laughs again and says, “None! I’m the sort of person who once a demo’s done literally throws it into the bin and moves on to the next thing. This was the first time I’ve ever really reflected on stuff.”
Did he enjoy the process?
“(Pause that’s not so much pregnant as feet up in the stirrups waiting to be induced). I’m not sure about enjoyable, but it was certainly interesting. I’ve been reassessing my whole career basically. It makes you very aware of what you’ve done right and what you’ve done wrong. When you’re in the midst of it, you’ve different agendas and can’t see the wood from the trees. To give you an example, it’s only now listening back to A New Morning that I realise the criteria we had for it was that it shouldn’t sound like Suede!
“I can look at it now and see what Suede’s strengths were and try hopefully to repeat that.”
So what are the things that Anderson feels Suede’s legion of fans buy into?
“Well, the stuff I enjoy is the dark, romantic, dare I say gothic side of Suede. Songs like ‘Heroine’, ‘Introducing The Band’, ‘Asphalt World’ and ‘She’, which were both very powerful and very pop. We created our own little universe and set of reference points, which people related to. There was a Suede way of dressing, a Suede way of thinking… it was very tribal.”
It’s a totally different musical oeuvre, but Scott Gorham said recently that he loved remastering Thin Lizzy’s Jailbreak and Johnny The Fox because it allowed him to correct mistakes which had been bugging him for 30 years. Did Suede indulge in any retrospective overdubbing?
“No, it’s like pulling a piece of wool from a jumper. Go down that route and all you’ll be left with is a messy ball of wool. There are things like the vari-speeding on Coming Up, which I think gave it a thin quality that I’d love to change, but people sometimes love music as much for its faults as its perfections. To iron out all the creases is to miss the point of why they find it charming.”
Unless you’ve spent the past three months living in a sensory deprivation tank you’ll be aware that Suede, Dog Man Star and Coming Up are each to be played in their entirety this month in the Dublin Olympia, a venue that Brett has fond memories of.
“It’s a beautiful place. Great atmosphere, great acoustics – I love it there. I just heard that the Queen might be in Dublin at the same time as us, so we’re going to ring up Buckingham Palace and see if she’d like to come along and do ‘My Insatiable One’ with us. Or maybe she’s more a fan of the first record. We’ll let her choose the song!
“Playing the albums in full is a very different dynamic to a normal gig,” he continues. “It could be absolutely brilliant or fall flat on its face. That not knowing is what makes it so exciting!”
I’d be guilty of gross dereliction of journalistic duty if I didn’t enquire as to how Brett is getting on these days with Bernard Butler.
“Really well,” he enthuses. “We’ve been working together on the remastering, hanging out a bit and enjoying each other’s company. Bernard would be the first to admit that the last thing he wants to do with his life now is join a band again and go touring. He has different priorities now – like his production work – so him being part of the reunion was never an issue. I think we righted whatever wrongs there were between us when we did The Tears album in 2005. The relationship I had with Bernard in Suede was as close and intense as I’ve had with any woman – well, mentally! There’s a constant push-and-pull and challenging of each other, which in our case got a bit out of hand for a while. We’re totally back on track now though.”
While we’ve got him in rare reflective mood, what are Brett’s favourite Suede moments?
“That transition point when we went from being on the dole to being nationally loved was an amazing experience that I’d recommend everyone to try!” he proffers. “After a while it sours and you become cynical about it, but with youthful innocence still intact it’s a beautiful thing.
“The whole period in 1992 when ‘The Drowners’ and ‘Metal Mickey’ were out and people would run onstage and rip my shirt off was amazing. That Royal Albert Hall show as part of the Teenage Cancer Trust week was probably my favourite Suede gig ever and meeting David Bowie for that NME cover story was a bit of a blast as well. I’ve fucked up on perhaps more occasions than I should have, but overall I’ve been pretty blessed.”